That Used to Be Us by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

70 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

Everyone should read That Used to Be Us. This is basically a book about our current economic crisis, why it happened, what we’re doing wrong in handling it, and what we can do to handle it better.

The crisis, they say, was brought about by a convergence of several things rather than any one single problem — Globalization, the IT revolution, rising debt, and deregulation. We’re handling it poorly in several ways as well. We aren’t recognizing that we’re undergoing a major transformation, and thus we aren’t doing enough to prepare for the future We have a broken down political climate that prevents any real progress on fixing issues like national debt. Instead of Democrats and Republicans working together to solve the crisis, they are working at cross purposes. As a result, what passes for compromise ends up being the worst of both worlds. We get Democratic social programs and Republican tax cuts all at once. This is unsustainable. We are surviving on credit, but there is a limit to how far credit will stretch even for the US government.

Friedman and Mandelbaum say we need to return to the values that saw us through other times of crisis. We need bi-partisan pragmatism rather than ideological warfare. We need investment in our future rather than turf battles over the present circumstances.

What we need is being impeded by several things — 24 hour news networks, social media, and lobbyists foremost among them. Politicians aren’t given the breathing room to set aside party politics long enough to just do what’s right for the country. Every little decision is subject to hyper-scrutiny and hyper-criticism.

Essentially, I think they are saying that we have lost sight of what’s important in our determination to always be right. We’ve turned everything into a dramatic and impassioned battle between two political sides, and this taking sides and fighting to the death for one side or the other has just absolutely crippled the chances for any actual governing that might take place.

Politicians have historically changed their minds on things like raising taxes or cutting programs when circumstances changed. Our current climate doesn’t leave any room for either side to back down, though. In that way, we have moved away from the values that made America great. We’ve moved away from a capacity to put the country ahead of political bickering.

Friedman and Mandelbaum still think we can turn this all around, but they think we’re going to have to undergo some serious changes first. They hope to see a third political party emerge to shake things up, one that is both more forward thinking and more fiscally responsible than either of the parties in power right now.

There’s more. There’s quite a bit more, and it’s all worth reading. I’ll leave you here for now, though.

If you believe there is plenty of fault to go around, and that it doesn’t all fall on one particular side of the political divide, this might be the book for you. If you believe we’re going to have to all work together, even to the point of all sharing tough sacrifices, in order to see the country through this crisis, this might be the book for you. If you believe we all need to apply a little more practical good sense and a little less finger pointing to the solutions, this might be the book for you.

It’s the book for me. I’m a believer.

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